Despite the fact that their history on the gridiron dates all the way back to the late 1890s, the Kansas State Wildcats were never really taken seriously until about 1989 when Bill Snyder first assumed the head coaching reins. In the previous 100 years, the Wildcats didn’t win very many games. Oftentimes, victory totals could be counted on one hand. People didn't think much of the school from the Little Apple (Manhattan, Kansas), but that would change soon, thanks to “the greatest turnaround in college football history.”
To fully understand just how far the Wildcats have come after Snyder arrived in town, consider that from ‘38 to ‘88, K-State football won 127 games and booked one single trip to the postseason. If you look at the record books from ‘45 to ‘88, you’ll see the names of 12 different head coaches and yet only 109 combined victories. Since taking over the program, Snyder collected more than 180 wins, led the Wildcats to more than 15 bowl game appearances, was named national Coach of the Year five different times and earned induction into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2015.
In ‘89, Snyder’s debut campaign, the Wildcats were buried under a 26-game losing streak and finished the season at 1-10. However, by the following year, fans were finding reason for optimism. K-State defeated league rivals Oklahoma State and Iowa State, and the next season, they added Kansas and Missouri to their list of vanquished foes. Suddenly, there was a new contender in the Big 8 Conference. The school won its first bowl game in ‘93 and charged into the top 11 in the AP polls at one point in ‘94. The program’s first and second 10-win seasons followed in ‘95 and ‘97, but it was the run in ‘98 that delivered K-State to the national stage. The club spent most of the fall near the top five, and after a second-straight showing of at least 11 victories, Snyder earned AP, Paul “Bear” Bryant and Walter Camp Coach of the Year honors.
The Wildcats’ streak of 11 consecutive bowl appearances ended in ‘04, and the next year, Snyder stepped down. However, the retirement didn’t stick, and by ‘09, the field general was back in his trademark windbreaker patrolling the sidelines. From ‘10 to ‘14, the ‘Cats rolled to five straight postseason tilts, including a BCS battle in ‘12.
On Saturdays at Bill Snyder Family Stadium, “Purple Pride” runs wild in the form of 50,000 fans ready to rock the house. It’s not just diehards and ‘Cats rumbling, either. Each year, “Harley Day” is held, and the school’s mascot, Willie the Wildcat, and 99 other motorcycle enthusiasts rev their engines and cruise around the field prior to kickoff.
In Manhattan, everyone is a Wildcat, and they hang on every play. First downs are celebrated with tremendous vigor, and the school’s unofficial rallying cry, “Wabash Cannonball,” brings the crowd to its feet. It’s been a long journey to the top of the college football world, but it’s absolutely been worth it. With claws out, K-State supporters are ready to eat up the competition.